Thursday, May 25, 2017

Prisoners of Love

"P.O. Box 1142" was the code name Army intelligence gave a top-secret prison camp outside Washington during World War II; a site devoted throughout the war to interning 3.400 German, Japanese and Italian prisoners of war.

A sequestered section of Fort Hunt, in Alexandria, Virginia, P.O. Box 1142 remained top secret until 2006, when Brandon Bies, a ranger with the National Park Service, uncovered it.

Eyewitnesses—now mostly deceased—told Bies that P.O. Box 1142 was indeed a prison camp, and that the interrogators who worked there persuaded enemy POWs to reveal their governments' closest-held military secrets—including Nazi Germany's rocket and atomic bomb programs. Interrogators' notes, written reports and photographs, archived in the Pentagon, verified their stories.

Right after the war, P.O. Box 1142 was bulldozed, the records sealed, and the eyewitnesses sworn to secrecy.

But the Pentagon missed one: my mother.

She served during World War II as a Woman Marine in the Pentagon. When I was a kid, she told me a story about P.O. Box 1142.

She told me it was the Pentagon's habit to send Women Marines from her barracks at nearby Henderson Hall to guard POWs at P.O. Box 1142—until amore put a stop to it.

It seems some of the Women Marines fell in love with the enemy prisoners—the Italian ones, in particular; some pledged to marry them; some became pregnant by them.

I asked Brandon Bies if he could confirm my mother's story.

"Putting it in the larger context of what I've learned about 1142, I would put this in the tall-tale category," he said. "I have never heard any evidence of Women Marines being at P.O. Box 1142. We do have evidence of a handful of WACs who were stationed there in 1945, as well as a handful of civilian typists, who served officers late- and immediately post-war.

"Furthermore, while we don't have exact numbers, the number of Italian prisoners was likely very low—my guess is that they made up about 1-2 percent of the total prisoner population. Maybe a dozen or so over the course of the war.

"Finally, while 1142 did 'relax' the rules from time to time in order to get information out of a prisoner, it is very hard for me to believe that they would have allowed women to guard prisoners, let alone present them with opportunities to spend intimate time together."

Matt Virta, also with the National Park Service, told me he couldn't confirm the story, either.

"I can find no information in the Fort Hunt records I have access to, nor can staff member Layesanna Rivera, regarding any female Marine guards at Fort Hunt and their potential links to Italian POWs," he said.

So is my mother's story unfounded?

Maybe not.

Tales of "POW coddling" in fact abounded during World War II, including tales of "too affectionate" Italians. When newspapers and magazines began to report them, Congress demanded a committee investigation.

While the Congressional committee found no evidence of coddling, you know what Italians say: Non c'รจ fumo senza arrosto. No smoke without fire.

Maybe "POW cuddling" should have been investigated.

PS: Have a safe and pleasant Memorial Day—and take time to remember our fallen warriors.
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